Just Sitting Around Breathing

Like lots of other people, I have asthma. Sometimes I'm aware of it, sometimes I'm not--there are lots of different things that can contribute to asthmatic response. The one thing that is certain is that I am not alone.

The Centers for Disease Control reported today that 1 in 12 people now have asthma. That's a bunch of folks. It used to not be that way, of course. But even when I was in the classroom teaching, it became obvious that conditions were changing. More and more of my kids were carrying around inhalers. Then, in more recent years, they started carrying that purple disc. So why the higher and higher rates? Who gets asthma? And what is the impact of the drugs?

I know you're thinking "why is a wildlife and gardening blog talking about asthma?" Well, plants tend to get a bad rap. Pollen, for instance, can indeed aggravate allergies, which by means of either inflammation or nasal effluvium can aggravate asthma. But most pollen doesn't. If a person has a known reaction to specific pollens, then those pollens should be avoided. And under no circumstances should an asthmatic plant ragweed in their yard. But many, many plants--such as goldenrod--have been accused of aggravating asthma, when, in fact, they don't.

And let's face it--plants have been around all this time--so what is it that has changed to increase asthma rates? There is some data that indicates we've gotten a little too clean. And even though we have more pets than ever, there is no clear link to early exposure to pets and asthma. There is data to indicate that the conditions contributing to climate change are also contributing to increasing respiratory problems. [See link titled "Harvard Med." below. It will open a .pdf.] As levels of carbon dioxide increase in the atmosphere, certain plants (like ragweed) respond be producing not just more, but larger grains of pollen. The stuff already looks like sand burrs. Now they're just bigger sand burrs. Lovely. Inhale that.

Which brings me to sources of all that carbon dioxide. You know, that's the stuff we exhale, not inhale. Except when we're around all those mobile sources, -- oh, what? You mean mobile sources are cars? Geez. Can't get away from the stuff even in your own driveway. Unless you're one of those treehuggers driving those electric cars. [I love you guys, really, I do. I'm just jealous.] So what that boils down to is that anyone living in a large city is at higher risk for asthma because of environmental contaminants like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and lots of particulates that aggravate lung tissue and make your airways swell up to try to keep the invaders out. Want to find out who's contributing to asthma in your neighborhood? Go to Scorecard.org, type in your zip code and get a report.

One reason for increasing particulates and carbon dioxide is, of course, more people. As population goes up, so does the infrastructure supporting that population. City dwellers, in general, are more likely to have asthma due to higher exposure to contaminants. But they're not the only group at risk. The poor are particularly at risk because of living in industrial neighborhoods (with high levels of particulates) and horrendous indoor air quality due to sub-standard housing. I won't give you all the gory details, but a very fine summary can be found here.

I lived in Atlanta, Georgia, rather briefly. Turned out I couldn't breathe the air. Today, I might be able to survive there by taking advantage of new drugs that turn off some of the response to environmental stimulants. But the more I find out about the drugs, the less inclined I am to use them. I found out that moving to an area with clean water and fewer airborne pollutants could reduce my need for prescriptions. Making sure I stay hydrated helps. Avoiding my favorite painkiller (ibuprofen--common side effect--asthma) helps. Because a prescription to one of the big guys (Advair, Singulair) tends to be a lifetime commitment. So if it's possible to find a different solution--you might want to take it.

Walks in the garden are good for asthma in two ways. First, it gets us outside, where the air is almost always cleaner. It's those durn trees. Keep pumping out oxygen. And second, exercise improves lung function. So. Get you and those kids out there!


Oh, and just to be clear-- I have a bumper sticker with "treehugger" on it.

Among sources:
Harvard Med.
Davidson River

Davidson River

Roots, Glorious Roots!